Mendes Wins Governor’s Educator of Year Award


Warren Hills Spanish Teacher Cesar Mendes balances balloons and other gifts he received upon being named 2022-23 Governor’s Educator of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Brown)

Cesar Mendes, a 16-year veteran teacher of Spanish at Warren Hills, has been named the school’s 2022-23 Governor’s Educator of the Year (GEOY).

Teachers who nominated Mendes for the honor pointed out that he takes multiple approaches in his efforts to teach the Spanish language to students at all levels.

Mendes helps his students thrive on being successful in his classes, according to the nomination letters, and he constantly pushes himself to give the education his students need.

Mendes teaches three levels of curricula: Spanish II, Spanish IV, and Advanced Placement Spanish.

“Mr. Mendes is one of the greatest assets to the World Languages Department and our school community,” English Teacher Toni Manfra said in a GEOY nomination letter in favor of Mendes.

Ironically, early in life, Mendes wasn’t planning to become a teacher.

He said that he grew up only eight miles from New York City, in Harrison, NJ. His parents owned a retail/wholesale clothing business, and their apartment was just above it. He grew up there, spending a lot of time within the store. He would help his parents by watching the clothes that were on display on racks directly outside the store or folding clothes inside the shop. 

Mendes said that his parents were immigrants to the United States, his mother being from Spain and his father from Portugal. His parents didn’t have much when coming to their new country. They worked hard and ended up with four stores in the 1990s, with two in New York.

“Those are sort of my role models,” Mendes said of his parents. “Very hardworking individuals, coming to this country to give me a better life.”

After high school, Mendes applied to Rutgers University and decided to major in Spanish and French. During that time, Mendes was unsure what career he wanted to pursue, but the idea of becoming a teacher was not on the list.

With his bachelor’s degree in Spanish, which he earned in 2002, he thought of becoming a language translator but found the work boring.

It was then that he decided to check out becoming a teacher. Mendes started as a substitute teacher. He admits, though, that the negative experiences from it were enough to convince him to stop substituting for around a year.

Still, Mendes believed that maybe his experience would be better if he taught full-time. 

His first year as a full-time teacher resulted in a series of difficulties that prompted him to question his decision to teach. Compounding the problems, he said, was the fact that some of his class sizes were huge – around 30 students.

What convinced him to continue teaching, he said, were the words of his mother. She told him that he should not quit just because of bad experiences with one group of students, and that he should press on.

English Teacher Andy Oakley, who also nominated Mendes for GEOY this year, said that Mendes several years ago told him this anecdote about his mother’s career advice.

“It’s a touching story,” Oakley said, “and I’m glad Senor Mendes listened. We at Warren Hills – students as well as staff and administrators – have certainly benefited by having him as a teacher here.”

In turn, Mendes said he enjoys the freedom of teaching and being around his co-workers. 

One of the impressions Mendes said he wants to give his students is that he is a human being who is empathetic toward all people. He hopes to brighten students’ days and tries to give his classes a positive education and influence.

In the end, he strives endlessly in his field so that students will be able to learn  new languages and also learn about world cultures, which may inspire them to travel.